The North Pacific Management Council, seemingly in response to the crisis in the Y-K Delta, has announced creation of a committee to deal with this and other rural Alaskan problems by forming a body that doesn't include anyone from the Delta (!):
The NPFMC, increasingly aware of a “huge communication gap” with rural Alaska, created the Rural Community Outreach Committee earlier this year, said Duncan Fields, a member of the new committee and a voting member of the NPFMC.
The seven appointments to the committee were announced at the NPFMC meeting in Anchorage earlier this month.
The new committee comes in the wake of criticism — much of it from villages along the lower Yukon River — that the 11 voting members of the NPFMC haven’t done enough to limit the huge numbers of king salmon caught inadvertently by the Bering Sea pollock fleet.
Many rural fishermen blame the giant pollock boats for the sharp drop in king salmon that, on the Yukon River, has led to a shutdown of commercial fishing and reductions to subsistence fishing.
The committee includes some commercial salmon fishermen and some rural residents, but none live in villages from the lower Yukon region.
In a letter that proposed possible court action to shut down the Bering Sea Pollock fleet's season, visionary Dillingham leader, Nels Anderson, writes:
I do know that peaceful, non-violent protest against our government is protected by our constitution, BUT ONLY after all legal, administrative, and other means have been exercised and failed.
We do know that people are barely hanging on and we are going to have a tough winter IF our federal, state, regional, and village leaders do not clearly understand that we cannot tolerate another winter of high cost fuel and electricity and watch the continuation of the taking of so many king salmon and other salmon in the Bering Sea Pollock Trawl fishery.
I hope that any decision to fish illegally will be decided by wise and sound counsel and due deliberation. This is not a step to be taken lightly.
At this point, I would advise against such action.
I know that there is little patience to wait for the results of seeking injunctive relief from our courts shutting down the Bering Sea Pollock Trawl fishery once king salmon bycatch reaches 5,000. I also know that village people are experiencing great difficulty having to pay very high prices for fuel to Subsistence hunt and fish.
Nevertheless, a suit seeking injunctive relief should be tried by our leaders.
Such injunctive relief would:
Stop the Bering Sea Pollock Trawl Fishery once 5,000 king salmon were caught;
Provide sufficient compensation that would get the people who depend on the king salmon and other salmon through the winter;
Develop a plan that will get low cost fuel into our villages ASAP.
I don't know what has been done on our behalf legally, legislatively, or administratively to provide us immediate relief. Therefore, I cannot say with any degree of certainty that we have exhausted all avenues of redress and relief.
I hope our leaders will intervene before any further harm is done to our salmon resources by such a high bycatch cap on the Bering Sea and do no further damage to the fragile economies of our villages by having to pay for such high cost fuel and electricity.
Again, I hope that wise heads prevail and that our grievances will be heard and relief will come from our federal, state, regional, and village leaders before any action is taken that may not bring desired results.
Nels Anderson, Jr
And another visionary voice, this one from the YK Delta, Nick Andrew, writes in yesterday's Tundra Drums, that:
“Until further notice.”
These three words are what the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADFG) uses when they are uncertain about salmon abundance, mainly for the Lower Yukon commercial fishery.
Today these three infamous words now determine the fate of our subsistence fishery. As you read this our fish nets are out of the water and time is of the essence.
A local woman stated it right. She implied to the visiting ADFG Biologists and fishery managers, “We only have a certain time to harvest and dry our king salmon before the rains come.”
Why are we not harvesting king salmon for subsistence?
We along the Yukon River are casualties of an unjust system that protects big enterprise and a state government that is unsympathetic to the rural people of Alaska, primarily the Native community.
What are the contributing factors to the diminishing runs of king salmon.
Many claim that predation in the Bering Sea is to blame. Others point out natural mortality rates.
However, the high seas pollock fisheries are a major factor.
According to an AKMuckraker Blog article, Something’s Fishy on the Yukon, “The sad truth that the State of Alaska doesn’t want to deal with is the fact that there ARE more fish. Lots more fish. And what’s happening to tens of thousands of those king salmon that are swimming toward the Yukon River right now as you read this? They will be caught in the nets of factory trawlers fishing for pollock off the coast, they will be hauled out of the ocean, and they will die. As WASTE. These precious king salmon that should be feeding Alaskans, sustaining a commercial fishery, and helping us fulfill our treaty obligation with Canada are thrown overboard dead.”
Wanton waste is a crime along the river and the entire state. Yet bycatch of our precious subsistence and economic resource is allowed and unregulated in the high seas.
Andrew goes on to disparage the Denby Lloyd-engineered outrage of a high bycatch cap, to be implemented in 2012, with little guidance until then on how to deal with a high bycatch, whether intentional or not. He concludes:
We harvest a small fraction of king salmon runs and none goes to waste. When we harvest more than what is needed, we share the surplus with family members or others in need.
The proof is in the pudding. Rural Native people eat more fish than large game animals.
According to the Federal Subsistence Management program, “The state’s rural residents harvest about 22,000 tons of wild game foods each year -- an average of 375 pounds per person. Fish makes up about 60 percent of this harvest. Nowhere else in the United States is there such a heavy reliance upon wild foods.”
We cannot wait until those charged with regulating and conserving the king salmon make up their minds about when to open the next subsistence period(s).
Many families, including the elderly, still have empty smokehouses and it is already mid-June.
During a subsistence period last Sunday, June 14, it felt like a commercial king salmon opener. It was saddening to see boats lined up along accustomed fishing areas waiting until 8 p.m. to set their subsistence nets.
During the end of the period at 2 p.m. on Monday, June 15, patrolling airplanes appeared in force looking and searching for violators to cite.
What is happening echoes the scenario of the Puyallup Tribe in Washington State during the 1960s and 1970s. Billy Frank and other members of his tribe were denied their aboriginal rights to harvest salmon in their accustomed fishing grounds.
It is only a matter of time until we unite and defy the system that continually treats us as second-class citizens and involve the mass media and make a stance just as the Washington state Indian tribes set in motion in the 1960s and early 1970s.
We will know within the next week, whether or not the courageously desperate people of the Yukon River are willing to openly challenge the regime that is intent on extinguishing a 7,000 year-old culture over the course of less than a generation.
image at top - Yukon salmon drying in 2007 (Oysters4me). These drying racks may be empty in 2009.